ST. LOUIS — Now that the analysis and reflection is wrapped up, it’s time for a little fun. Over the course of 162 games, the moments of a baseball season tend to blur together. With some time off to look back, I’ve compiled part two of my list of the things I couldn’t forget from 2014.
Favorite moment of 2014
Winner: Marco Gonzales strikes out Troy Tulowitzki in debut.
This was the embodiment of every Little Leaguer’s dream. Gonzales is from Colorado and grew up watching the Rockies on TV. Tulowitzki, 30, is one of the best hitters in the game, and a player Gonzales had to have imagined facing in his high school daydreams.
First inning in the majors, and he had the Rockies franchise player staring back at him. Unfazed, he threw three straight change-ups to make Tulowitzki look silly, striking him out. Every kid has imagined facing the superstar of his generation (I owned Derek Jeter in my front yard), but Gonzales actually did it. And he won.
Runner up: Taveras homers in his debut.
He finally arrived, and when he homered, it tore the sky apart and unleashed a deluge. Biblical.
Biggest reminder professional athletes are superhuman
Winner: A.J. Pierzynski’s first game as a Cardinal.
The Cards signed Pierzynski on Friday July 25. He traveled from Cooperstown, New York to Chicago overnight, joining the team Saturday morning.
He started against the Cubs and caught a pitcher he didn’t know for a team he had never met. Worse, Shelby Miller was making his first return to the rotation since July 10, having struggled enough to be sent to the bullpen.
Pierzynski had new catcher’s gear and cleats shipped to the Windy City and wore them straight out of the box for his debut. He caught nine innings, picked up three hits and the Cardinals won 6-3. At 37-years-old Pierzynski flew across the country, called a game cold for a struggling pitcher he didn’t know, led his new team on offense and presided over a win in a stadium that despises him, all on no sleep.
Athletes are not like you and I.
Runner up: Molina returns a week early
Yadier Molina damaged his right thumb ligament so severely he needed surgery. He was projected to return in 8-12 weeks. He returned in seven. If I stub my toe I limp for the rest of the year.
My vote for 2014 MVP
Winner: Lance Lynn
Why? 33 starts, 203 innings. 24 starts in which he allowed two earned runs or less. In the second half he never gave up more than three runs and opponents hit .228 against him. At certain points he was among the best in baseball on the mound. In a season where pitching was uncertain and innings were desperately needed, Lynn was a workhorse. He went less than six only seven times on the year, and finished a third straight season with 15 or more wins.
There were plenty of strong seasons by St. Louis players, but if Lynn doesn’t have this kind of year, the Cardinals watch the playoffs from their couches.
Runners up: Plenty to go into here, but Jhonny Peralta’s 21 homers are hard to ignore when the team only hit 105.
Most impressive thing by an opposing player
Winner: Billy Hamilton tags from third on a near-infield pop up
On April 9, the Cardinals hosted the Reds. In the fifth inning, Billy Hamilton was on third and Jay Bruce popped up just barely into the right field grass behind the second baseman. It was an easy second out, and Shelby Miller was almost out of a jam. But Hamilton is not bound by the conventions of speed as we understand them.
He tagged from third on the play, beating a throw from extremely shallow right field to score.
Look at Jay Bruce’s reaction when he popped up. He disgustedly hung his head because years of playing baseball with normal people taught him there is no way the runner on third could do anything with that. But Hamilton did, and it remains the most impressive thing I saw all year. Also he had singled, stole second and tagged on a fly ball before that to get to third, because Billy Hamilton is hilariously fast.
Runner Up: Jorge Soler demolished a pitch from Pat Neshek
Favorite story of the year
Winner: Pat Neshek and John Lackey negotiate a jersey swap.
This one was the clear favorite. When John Lackey came over to the Cards, Pat Neshek was already wearing number 41. Lackey wanted it, and began negotiations with the All Star set-up man. The following back-and-forth was a fascinating exchange involving a watch, a prized memorabilia collection, Matt Holliday as a mediator and a baseball signed by one of the greatest players ever. It was a brief look behind the curtain, and showed us the personality of the players and the idiosyncrasies of baseball’s culture.